Notebookcheck's Best of April 2013 - Notebooks and Convertibles
For the original German article, see here.
Which devices did we like most in April 2013? We compare reviewed laptops of four categories and elect a winner for each. Tablets and smartphones are elected separately: Best of April 2013 – Smartphones and Tablets.
We reviewed 25 notebooks, small and big ones, in April. We had reviewed more laptops per month before. However, manufacturers will not be launching many new laptops before Intel's formal introduction of their new Haswell architecture at the beginning of June. So, Notebookcheck primarily reviewed tablets and smartphones.
In April, the most crowded category was multimedia notebooks for a low to modest price. Many of them feature AMD APUs and dual graphics. However, these did not get the first prize of the month, which was less due to their limited performance than to their cheap design. One of the contenders was superior with its excellent display and high-end case: Samsung's 770Z5E-S01DE achieved 88%.
Subnotebooks are also worth consideration. Besides the smaller Samsung 730U3E-S04DE, we also reviewed a laptop with the best display of the category so far: Google's Chromebook Pixel. It achieved a display rating of 90% and is nearly on par with the HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor workstation's of 92%.
While we reviewed a lot of Windows 8 convertibles in previous months, we only had two under review in April: HP's EliteBook 2760p and Samsung's Ativ Smart PC Pro. We categorized Microsoft's Surface Pro, which also features an Intel Core and Windows 8 64-bit, as a tablet and so it is listed in our Best of April 2013 – Smartphones and Tablets review, and it was elected tablet of April 2013.
The EliteBook 2760p is a typical business device. Since 2007, its look has hardly changed. Today, the 1.8 kg 12-incher no longer features a Core 2 Duo, but a Sandy Bridge Core i5-2540M. The latter is also already outdated (2011). The successor generation, Ivy Bridge will be replaced by Haswell in a few weeks (June 2013). Nevertheless, the 2760p achieves a decent rating of 86%. Input via stylus, finger, mouse, and touchpad, the expandability and the display are totally convincing. But, the short battery life of three hours, and the lack of DisplayPort, eSATA, or USB 3.0 are disadvantages.
While HP charges nearly 1,500 Euros (~$1938) for their 2760p, the Samsung is priced at 1,300 Euros (~$1680). The Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro XE700T1C (11.6-inch) with docking solution features a Core i5-3317U and a fast SSD. The Pro is designed for business users who want to equally often use a tablet or a subnotebook using Windows. Apart from pros, like the fast SSD, the high resolution display with wide viewing angles and the input devices including a digitizer pen there are also points of critique. The quality of the materials is too low for the price. There are only a few interfaces and the battery life of 3:28 hours (WLAN test) is, like the HP 2760p's, too short.
Acer surprises us with the Iconia W700. The Intel Core Slate PC (11.6-inch) with Bluetooth keyboard is cheaper (i5 model: 900 Euros, ~$1163), also features a first-class IPS FHD display and delivers a battery life of 6:33 hours (WLAN test). The modest build quality and the few interfaces are the only cons. However, the low price (from 665 Euros, ~$859) and also the not especially ample connectivity of the contenders (Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB or Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro) put the issues into perspective. The smart cover with built-in keyboard is included standard.
Convertible of April 2013: Acer Iconia W700-53334G12as
If you need the performance and the Windows operating system of a subnotebook, but want to use a tablet, you should look at Acer's Iconia W700, which is especially cheap. The i3 model is already available for 665 Euros (~$859). The high-end IPS display is standard. A disadvantage of the Iconia and also the Smart PC Pro is notable CPU throttling under load. Slim tablet cases and subnotebook performance are still a challenge for cooling systems.
What we like
The really good touchscreen alongside its crisp colors and great viewing angles.
What we'd like to see
A second USB port should have been a must.
What surprises us
We didn't expect a tablet based on Core i with such a long runtime.
We reviewed a few, but quite different slim ultrabooks and subnotebooks in April. Ultrabooks are now mature: Discrete graphics cards are no longer a no-go option. What the customers expected from a notebook yesterday, they now want to see in a 22 mm high ultrabook today. So, Samsung equips their Series 7 Ultra 730U3E with a dedicated AMD Radeon HD 8570M and a Core i5-3337U. In addition, the 13.3-incher features a matte FHD IPS display and a 256 GB SSD. Could you wish for anything else?
It is not surprising that such a solution easily costs 1,200 Euros (~$1551). The low noise and temperature emissions and the very good system performance without CPU throttling are impressive. The latter is not true for the AMD Radeon HD 8570M. Its clock rate is limited to 400 MHz (core clock). However, potential buyers will appreciate its input devices, its build quality and finally its high-end display.
Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge E130 NZUAXMB is much cheaper. The 11.6-incher for 570 Euros (~$736) features an Intel HD Graphics 4000 and an Intel Core i3-3227U. We already reviewed the Pentium model of the E130 for 370 Euros (~$478) before. We still like the decent battery life, the decent keyboard and the stable chassis. Unfortunately, the maximum display brightness drops to 177 cd/m² on battery. This and the modest contrast make it difficult to read from the screen in daylight. We experienced this only to a lesser extent in our previous test (Edge E130 NZU5FGE).
The Google Chromebook Pixel turns the world upside down: Despite Windows compatible Intel Core hardware and fast SSD, it uses Google's Chrome OS. It is very simple and user friendly, but compatibility and versatility are very limited and it soon had us longing for Windows. This might be the reason why the Pixel, for 1,745 Euros (~$2255), is hardly sold in some countries. The build quality of the Chromebook Pixel is very good and even the speakers are absolutely the best in its category. The quiet fan, the optional LTE support and the decent battery life are further pros. But, the IPS screen with 2560x1700 pixels is the best of all. It even has a higher DPI than Apple's Retina MacBook.
The Asus VivoBook S300CA costs less. The 13-incher is available for just under 600 Euros (~$777). Although it is not an ultrabook, it features a low voltage CPU. The small screen allows touch input. It is up to the buyer to decide if this feature is really useful. The build quality of the noble light metal case (apart from the slanted touchpad) and the long battery life of 4:32 hours are convincing in this category.
Toshiba offer the Satellite L830-15L (13-inch) with slightly more powerful hardware for about the same price: AMD Radeon HD 7550M and Core i5-3337U. The laptop is capable of occasional gaming (medium details are partly possible) according to our game tests. However, the battery life of three hours is rather short. Prolific writers will appreciate the keyboard with decent pressure point and stroke for a comfortable typing experience. Because of the poor display and the only modest gaming performance, the rating does not exceed 81%.
Subnotebook of April 2013: Samsung 730U3E-S04DE
Because of its rating, Samsung's Ultrabook 730U3E clearly wins. The reviewers cannot criticize much: In our opinion, the GPU performance is the only relevant con. The gaming performance nearly drops to the level of an HD Graphics 4000. Despite impressive hardware (TFT), the Chromebook Pixel fails to achieve a "very good" in our total rating.
What we like
The stylish design, choice of materials and build as well as the matte IPS screen with a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels.
What we'd like to see
The full power of AMD's dedicated Radeon HD 8550M graphics unit. Otherwise, the 730U3E-S04DE does a good job.
What surprises us
That Samsung also draws on unlimited resources in these devices and thus successfully avoids major blunders. The Korean manufacturer's experience pays off in this case.
Asus X55U-SX052H 79%
We reviewed a competitor to Lenovo's ThinkPad T530, HP's ProBook 6570b and Dell's Latitude E6530 from Samsung in April. Considering that these series are reference business models, this is a brave decision. The 15.6-inch Series 4 400B5C is only slightly cheaper than its competition: While it delivers a 128 GB SSD for 1,100 Euros (~$1424), there are no options other than a plain WXGA display available. The 400B5C scores points in system performance, battery life, build quality and connectivity. In addition, the system noise is extremely quiet. The keyboard is even excellent, but the competition rates better here (precise pressure point).
HP offers a lot of ProBook 4340s (13-inch) models. But, all of them come with a WXGA display with narrow viewing angles and pallid colors. Our model, the H4R47EA with Intel Core i3-3120M for 600 Euros (~$777), balances a few professional features (very good input devices, but few interfaces, no docking port, high-end case) with the low cost of a consumer product (no SSD, no ExpressCard/34 mm). It's a kind of ProBook light for less demanding and specialized users.
In contrast, the Toshiba Tecra R950-192 is a true business device with apparently no trade-offs. After all, the model with Core i7-3540M and AMD Radeon HD 7570M costs just under 1,500 Euros (~$1942). Unfortunately, the input devices cannot keep up with the significantly cheaper ProBook 4340s's and the display has narrow viewing angles and pallid colors. The case is light and slim, but cannot reach the stability of the best in this category. If it were not for the matte and bright display, integrated UMTS and the low weight, we would really wonder about Toshiba's business approach.
The Asus X55U-SX052H is definitely a consumer notebook. The low price of the 15.6-incher is striking: 340 Euros (~$440) with Windows OS. But, it only features a weak AMD APU (E series E2-1800), which is often found in subnotebooks. The battery life of just under four hours profits from the low energy consumption. The ergonomics are perfect, but the rickety keyboard significantly worsens the impression - even for undemanding users.
Schenker's XIRIOS business notebooks are freely scalable. We scrutinized the high-end model: The specs of the XIRIOS B502 with i7-3632QM, Samsung SSD PM841 and IPS display (1920x1080) are impressive. The bright, matte display actually performs extremely well and achieves a "very good" seldom reached by TFTs (91%). Furthermore, it delivers an extremely fast system performance, but the poor keyboard and the low quality of the plastic case are disappointing. So, the XIRIOS B502 is rather unbalanced.
Toshiba's Satellite C850-1LX competes with the Asus X55U-SX052H low cost model. It features an Intel Celeron 1000M and 15.6-inch HD screen for 450 Euros (~$582). The latter surprises with a very high contrast, but its low brightness on battery is disappointing. The legibility of the TFT screen suffers from its reflective surface.
If you are looking for a simple office laptop with a contrast-rich display and slim case, you could come across the Acer Aspire V5-551. It is an AMD version of the V5-571G (Intel), which is based on the same barebone, but with silver surfaces. Thanks to the AMD A-Series A6-4455M the price is lower: under 400 Euros (~$518). You should be aware of the permanently audible fan and the short battery life, if you consider it. Furthermore, the gaming performance is too low to justify the high system noise.
Office notebook of April 2013: Samsung 400B5C-H02DE
Samsung's 14-inch 400B5C-H02DE wins in April. We reward the fact that it focuses on the most important features of a mobile office device: great ergonomics, long battery life and an ideal keyboard are its biggest strengths. The connectivity is versatile and the manufacturer also offers a compatible docking station. If the manufacturer would build a WXGA++ model, the 400B5C could keep up with similarly equipped ThinkPads and ProBooks.
What we like
Among its other strengths, the 400B5C stands out with its premium keyboard. The non-chiclet design and precise tactile feedback provide a fantastic typing experience. If only Samsung integrated a backlight, even the last small criticism would be gone.
What we'd like to see
Clearly, a simple WXGA display, such as those found on entry-level laptops for less than 400 Euros (~$520), seems hardly appropriate for a business notebook that is two or three times as expensive. At least the user should have the option of choosing a high-quality panel at a surcharge.
What surprises us
Surprisingly, Samsung offers the 400B5C in only a few different variations. We could have imagined configurations with a dedicated graphics card or a quad-core CPU, because the cooling system is definitely adequate.
The multimedia category was the most crowded. We reviewed notebooks of all sizes with powerful dedicated graphics solutions, which should attract mid-range users. The laptops are designed for both office tasks and entertainment/games.
Of course not all 15-inch devices of this category are as expensive as Samsung's Series 7 Chronos 770Z5E. For about 1,300 Euros (~$1686) Samsung delivers high-end hardware: a brand new AMD Radeon HD 8870M, an Intel Core i7-3635QM and a matte 1920x1080 pixel IPS display. Technology fans will appreciate the performance of the system, which can also run games. The display convinces with wide viewing angles and crisp colors. That's what buyers expect in this price class. The low system noise of the cooling system is impressive if you consider the potent hardware and the slim aluminum case.
The Asus N56VB-S4050H is also an ambitious laptop. With up-to-date GeForce GT 740M and Core i7-3630QM the 15.6-incher delivers a lot of gaming performance for 950 Euros (~$1232). Several games even run fluently in high details and HD resolution. However, the display supports FHD and impresses with an excellent brightness, high contrast and wide viewing angles. There are no flaws in ergonomics and the keyboard is comfortable. Unfortunately, the mouse replacement has poor buttons.
Acer offers the Aspire V3-771G (FHD, 17-inch) for the same price (950 Euros, ~$1232), but delivers a more powerful GeForce GT 650M and the same quad core than the Asus N56VB. The highlight of the V3 is the very bright, contrast-rich display with wide viewing angles. If the build quality suffices for their needs then it is a good choice for gamers.
The 15.6-inch Packard Bell EasyNote TS11SB-250GE is also standard fare in build quality. Acer offers a gaming capable, quiet and contrast-rich device for 500 Euros (~$648). The reader might be surprised that the keyboard rates very good. The laptop features an AMD A-Series A8-3520M and a Radeon HD 6620G + HD 7670M dual graphics solution. Apart from a few exceptions games run in high details and HD resolution.
The 17-inch Asus K75DE features very similar hardware: The Radeon HD 7640G + HD 7670M dual graphics solution for just under 600 Euros (~$778) is gaming capable. Apart from small limitations games run decently. The K75DE can be equipped with a second hard drive and the second RAM slot is free. Cons are the poor keyboard, the rather plain plastic case and the relatively low system performance (which could be improved with an SSD).
Apparently, there are currently many devices with AMD dual graphics available. The Toshiba Satellite L855D-10K is also based on an APU of the A series A8-4500M. The 15-inch laptop features a Radeon HD 7640G + HD 7610M, delivers mid-range gaming capabilities and remains quiet. The display has a decent contrast, but the viewing angles are narrow. We did not like the poor build quality and the rickety keyboard. But, the new aluminum finish on the palm rests is nice.
Lenovo's IdeaPad Z500 with GeForce GT 645M and Intel Core i7-3632QM is a balanced product. The slim 15.6-inch laptop has (unfortunately) uncomfortable input devices and is available for below 800 Euros (~$1037). Gamers will appreciate the performance, but not the narrow viewing angles of the reflective TFT. The Acer Aspire V3-571G delivers a better display for less money.
The second laptop from Packard Bell EasyNote we reviewed in April is the TE11HC with GeForce GT 620M and Intel Core i3-2328M for 450 Euros (~$584). It delivers decent performance and less demanding games can run with high details. We did not like the spongy keyboard without comfortable feedback. Otherwise, the build quality is decent.
The Toshiba Satellite L855-15U (just under 800 Euros, ~$1038) with Radeon HD 7670M and Core i5-3230M is slightly faster. The 15.6-incher made from brushed aluminum in ice-blue looks good, but its build quality is poor: The stability is not decent everywhere and the too small cursor keys and the small enter key are annoying. It can run current games in medium details and the system noise stays low while it does.
Our US editors reviewed the Toshiba Satellite P845T-S4310 touch notebook. The 14-inch laptop with low voltage processor is nearly a subnotebook. Again Toshiba delivers a poor build quality: weak lid and soft key stroke. Outdoor use suffers from the reflective touch display. The narrow viewing angles and the low contrast result in a low display rating. We like the high-end look of the aluminum case and the decent sound of the speakers.
Multimedia notebook of April 2013: Samsung 770Z5E-S01DE
Samsung's smart multimedia meteor easily outperforms nine competitors. This is firstly because of the excellent display and secondly because of the great build quality. Its performance is impressive, as is the Aspire V3-771G's and the Asus N56VB's if your budget is too small for the Samsung 770Z5E.
What we like
The laptop's high-quality case, the matte Full HD display, its inner components and especially that 2.0 sound system by JBL.
What we'd like to see
Better accessibility of its innards, e.g. the ability to swap the HDD or the battery (or simply to clean the fans).
What surprises us
That Samsung manages to put together a well-rounded package without any major let-downs. Great job!